On this day 45 years ago, the world mourned the loss of one of the 20th Century’s greatest visionaries and most beloved figures, Walt Disney. Just a couple months earlier, in the fall of 1966, Walt had publicity photos taken at Disneyland park. Joined by Mickey Mouse at Sleeping Beauty Castle in the Disneyland Fire Department “Engine No. 1,” Walt was photographed by my former colleague, Disneyland Chief Photographer, Renie Bardeau, who retired in 1998. That day, Renie took what would be the final photographs of Walt Disney at Disneyland park.
Prior to his retirement, Renie told the Los Angeles Times, “There is a little story of when I was shooting that particular picture. It was shot on a Rolleiflex, and there are 12 pictures on a roll. I had shot 11 pictures of Walt at different angles… watching for his smile, watching to make sure Mickey was looking the right way, making sure the (castle) spires weren’t hanging out of Mickey’s ears. Anyway, I had shot 11 pictures, and I had said, ‘Thank you, Walt, that’s it.’ He asked me if I was sure, and I told him I was. He then told me that at the Studio we treat film like paper clips. You shoot, shoot, shoot all the film you need because if it’s not in the can, you will never have it. So he asked me to shoot one more. So, I shot one more and he said, ‘That’s fine, thank you, Renie,’ and he walked away.”
Over time, the photo has become an iconic image of Walt, but few people know that it was the last time we saw him at his beloved Disneyland.
The memorable portrait was recreated for the “Happiest Faces On Earth” photo-mosaic murals featured throughout the park during our 50th Anniversary celebration in 2005. It hung in the foyer of the Main Street Opera House and is now seen by cast members every day as they pass through the lobby of the Team Disney building at the Disneyland Resort.
Every morning when I see it I’m reminded of the rich legacy Walt left the world, and in particular to those of us lucky enough to spend every day at the place he loved so much.